Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project: Mortal Love

 I hope you’ll like the October selection for the Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project.  It’s time for a modern book.  For those of you new to the reading project, we alternate classic books with modern ones.

Mortal Love is an unusual novel by Elizabeth Hand.  This is the first time I’ve selected a book that I’ve read before.  Folks, I am a compulsive re-reader.  When I love a book, it becomes a part of me and I will revisit it again and again over the years.  Sometimes I will re-read a book often and greedily, maybe just revisiting certain passages.  But there are books that are so beautiful that it creates a heavy emotional reaction in me and I know I can’t re-read it as often as the others because it’s just too much.  Mortal Love is one of those books.

I think Mortal Love had such a profound impact on me because I already had a certain obsession with the relationship between Lizzie Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  I’ve mulled over their relationship for years, trying to pick it apart and examine it from different angles.  I admit that may be a strange hobby, but it’s mine and I love it.  Now, Mortal Love is not about Lizzie and Gabriel, although they are mentioned.  It’s a swirling epic that explores artistic inspiration,  obsession, and madness. The cover art of Mortal Love features a detail of Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata, by the way.

It’s about the relationship between artist and muse.  A perfect selection for a Pre-Raphaelite reading project.

Here’s my previous comments, written in 2009:
I devoured this book. And I know I will not hesitate to devour it again, its hold over me is that strong. It is a story with many layers and a narrative that switches between time periods. I enjoyed it, realizing early on that the story was told in an artistic, disjointed way that appealed to me. It is unique and yet, like Pre-Raphaelite art, it is not for everyone.

I think Mortal Love can best be described as a fairy tale for adult readers. It is a modern myth that explores the relationship between the muse and the artist.

This book is indeed a tapestry, weaving together not only different time periods, but also offering cameo appearances of artists, authors, music, and folklore from days gone by. I do have to say that my knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelites and their circle added to my understanding and enjoyment of this book. I do wonder whether a new reader who has never heard of Burne-Jones or Algernon Charles Swinburne would appreciate the book with the same depth, but on the whole the story still stands alone and if anything, I hope that this beautifully told tale would inspire those readers to seek out information about the artists and authors mentioned.

I loved Elizabeth Hand’s easy use of colors and scents. She created a visual atmosphere for the reader, immersing me in a world of crisp hues and the scent of green apples. Have you ever had that experience where even though you are asleep, sounds from the awake world are heard and mesh seamlessly with your dream? Like a telephone ringing or a dog barking? That is the only way I can think of to describe my feelings while reading this book. I was sort of in between worlds, yet part of both. My children surround me, playing. My husband working in the near vicinity. Noises are everywhere. Amidst our normal daily chaos, I was somewhere else. A dream world of chestnut-colored hair, acorns, absinthe, art, and a woman who could truly be described as la belle dame sans merci.

I want to share with you a synopsis of the book, but it just struck me that the task may be beyond me. I’m actually amused that I have never had difficulty describing the plot of a book before, but there is so much going on in Mortal Love that I can not do it justice with my own words. Instead of attempting it, I hope you will forgive me for taking the easy way out and give you the description from the back of the book:

In the Victorian Age, a mysterious and irresistible woman becomes entwined in the lives of several artists, both as a muse and as the object of all-consuming obsession. Radborne Comstock, one of the early twentieth century’s young painters, is helpless under her dangerous spell.

In modern-day London, journalist Daniel Rowlands meets a beguiling woman who holds a secret to invaluable- and lost- Pre-Raphaelite paintings, while wealthy dilettante -actor Valentine Comstock is consumed by enigmatic visions.

Swirling between eras and continents, Mortal Love is the intense tale of unforgettable characters caught in a whirlwind of art, love, and intrigue that will take your breath away.

For those who may be bothered, please note that there are some sexually explicit passages.


How to participate:
Just read!  If you want, you can post comments on this site, on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Facebook page or use the #preraphaelitereading tag on Twitter.  Or if that hashtag is too long for your tweet, just send me an @ message. I’m @beguilingmerlin. If you blog about a book we’re reading, let me know so I can share it!

17 thoughts on “Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project: Mortal Love”

  1. A friend recently read this, and I added it to my Amazon list. I’ve been finding a bit more time to read lately. Maybe I’ll actually manage to join you guys on this one!

  2. O my, o my! Too bad to read about these selections! I could even find it second hand in The Netherlands… Do you deliver also bookcases with all your delightfull sugestions???

  3. I have read this book three times before. It is a book that has meant so much to me. I still remember the first time I read it, I was sitting on a blanket in a beautiful nature park in Stockholm and I felt as if I was encapsulated into a mysterious, beautiful, eerie, spooky, strange world that I never, ever wanted to leave. Since then, I have studied the pre-raphaelites and their circles even more so on the second and third reading there were even more little details in the book that I could appreciate and understand.

  4. I don’t even have the novel yet, but I have become enamored of the Pre-Raphael movement and am now reading two other related books, “Pre-Raphaelites At Home” and “Lizzie Siddal, Face of the Pre-Raphaelites”. I will be getting “Mortal Love” and as part of my main passion (the Spanish language,) I will have to see if I can translate one or any or all of these books into Spanish!!


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